Friday, May 27, 2016

A pan- European defence initiative is a good idea

As Europe moves towards "Ever closer union" it is entirely logical that this union be supported by strong military cooperation. The European Union of 28 Nation states is both economic and political - indeed the distinction  between what is "economic" and what is "political" is unhelpful and largely meaningless. The EU is a political union of independent, sovereign Nations who have chosen to pool some of their sovereignty in their own interests and the common good. There is an element of federation about this which is consistent with Winston Churchill's original dream of a "...kind of United States of Europe". Note Churchill used the qualifier "kind of" deliberately. He was not, I think, arguing for a federal Europe. And nor am I !

So if "ever closer union" is overtly political and requires an agreed greater pooling of sovereignty (it does) what are the defence implications of this? Well countries have armed forces to protect themselves - their borders, their way of life etc. And often they do so because they perceive a military threat from a potential aggressor that they may need to repel. The EU is politically and economically the largest cooperative venture in the world. The need for the EU's nation States, and by extension the Union as a whole, to be protected from threats is self-evident. So what is the best way to do this? By cooperating with one another, as with every other aspect of the EU's operations.

Military cooperation in Europe in the Post War period is not new, of course, and NATO has been a force for good since 1949. But NATO was comprised from the start of not just European nations but also included the United States and Canada. At the time of the Cold War Europe welcomed the active participation of the North Americans and the US was obviously the only counterweight to the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. However there was always a democratic inconsistency in this. Nobody in Europe elects the leaders of the US/Canada.

The case for European Defence Force initiative firstly builds on the very fact of political interdependence. Secondly it is, where NATO is not, a purely European affair and is accountable to the political control of the European nations - nobody else. The question as to whether there would need to be a "European Army" (etc.) is not really the issue. The model is the UN where there can be UN political direction of armed forces which remain in the uniforms of their individual countries but act in a coordinated way with a joint Command centre under political control.

At present, in addition to the North Americans, NATO has Turkey and Iceland as members. And of the EU members Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden are not members of NATO. Ideally if NATO is disbanded and replaced with an EDF then all the EU nations could be persuaded to participate. Similarly there is nothing to stop the EU negotiating a military partnership with the US, Canada or Turkey – or any other country. The key point, of course, is that the EDF would be under European control - the control of the 28 members of the EU.

So what’s not to like? Very little in my view – the benefits – especially in respect of democratic accountability – seem strongly to outweigh the disadvantages. Seventy years on from the end of the Second World War the political, economic and defence/military scene in Europe is vastly changed. Our military capabilities need much more closely to match our increasingly integrated political and economic situation.   


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